Kali Holstein: Turning unthinkable loss into action
Kali Holstein and, from left, her husband, David, and sons Jackson and Charlie,
celebrate Cohen’s memory every year on his birthday.
“He was alive for 2 hours and 13 minutes. And then he passed away.”
Kali Holstein, the operations specialist on Wipfli’s construction and real estate team since 2021, choked up recalling the excruciating, unfathomable experience five years ago of going into premature labor and giving birth to her middle son, Cohen Douglas. Her pregnancy appeared to be progressing normally until, at just over 20 weeks, everything changed in an instant. Cohen Douglas was born at the hospital near her home in Geneva, Illinois, soon after midnight on March 13, 2018. He weighed 13 ounces and was gone before the sun rose.
The devastation and multitude of questions persisted for some time, but when Kali and her husband David began to emerge from the thick fog of grief, she vowed they would find ways to “keep Cohen’s legacy alive.” The Holstein are parents to two other sons, Jackson, now 6, and Charlie, 2, but Kali explained, she will always identify as “a mother of three.”
Fighting for the smallest
After a friend made a donation in Cohen’s memory to the March of Dimes, an 85-year-old organization dedicated to advancing maternal and infant health, Kali decided that was the cause she would get behind. “The March of Dimes is about fighting for the smallest among us. And that just totally stuck with us,” she said. “We have received a lot of emotional support from them.”
The family has made the annual March for Babies 5K fundraising walk their priority ever since, initially setting a goal of $313 to mark Cohen’s March 13 birthday. They steadily raised the multiplier for their yearly goal. For 2023, the target was a lofty $1,565, the product of $313 times five years.
But this year, Kali’s wide network of friends and loved ones on social media and in real life, including a deep bench of Wipfli colleagues, have stepped up in a far bigger way than she could ever imagine. Her March for Cohen team netted $4,373 from the April 30 walk, the fourth-highest total of all Chicago area teams.
The family gathers for the 2023 March for Babies Walk near the Chicago lakefront.
But that was just the start. When the March of Dimes asked Kali to be a Family Ambassador this October for one of their industry fundraising luncheons because of her powerful story and growing charitable track record, she was excited and a little worried. That role meant she was expected to raise another $10,000.
When she learned that the luncheon in downtown Chicago would be centered on members of the construction and transportation industries, it was a coincidence, she said, that deepened her resolve. The March of Dimes didn’t have any idea that Kali worked on Wipfli’s team devoted to supporting construction businesses. “I would have to connect this big, vulnerable piece of me with my professional life,” she said. But Kali decided it was worth it.
As her loss occurred three years before she arrived at Wipfli, Kali had no intention of broadly sharing that hard part of her life with her colleagues. But as the linchpin of her fast-moving, far-flung remote Wipfli team, it was little surprise that many sprang to action as soon as they heard about her efforts.
After all, how could they not support their colleague known for her can-do spirit, problem-solving prowess and caring nature? Three of the industry leaders she supports were among the first to step up. Brad Werner, Cory Bultinck and Ryan Rademann enthusiastically offered to attend the luncheon with her. “They made it clear ‘we’re your family and we stand behind you on this,’” Kali said.
The Holsteins shared their story for a March of Dimes video.
An explosion of giving
The industry leaders also encouraged her to share her March of Dimes effort at team meetings. The result has been a flood of more than $7,950 in donations, largely from her colleagues around the country, a full five months before the scheduled fundraiser.
Many of those colleagues have taken advantage of the Wipfli Foundation’s giving program, which enables Wipfli associates to seamlessly obtain matching funds to support the nonprofit.
“The explosion of giving this year has been incredible,” she said.
But the generosity she elicited is not only a testament to her own perseverance, it also aligns with the compassionate culture and commitment to work-life balance that attracted Kali to Wipfli and its values from the start.
As a parent of young children, she appreciates the flexibility of mostly remote work that enables her to fully do her job and handle kid duties as needed. “I previously worked in an office at a school, and it was a lot more rigid,” Kali said. “Wipfli is a breath of fresh air. I can’t tell you how many times my boss Brad says, ‘I’ve got your back,’ she said. “Our team has a really strong culture of trust and respect. There’s a ripple effect.”
Even with the physical distance separating them most of the time, the positivity is ever-present and contagious. “And when we do get together in person,” she added, “the reunions are all the sweeter.”